RIGHT TO OVERTHROW THE SYSTEM

Diarmuid Breatnach

The whisper is that a new movement is to be created, called Right to Change and that it will publish an on-line mass left-wing newspaper, which will be the first mass left-wing paper in this country since 1913 and even then, that newspaper’s distribution was mostly confined to Dublin.

In fact, a movement based on the right to change already exists, taking in not only the right to water but to housing, to social provisions, to health, to education, to natural resources – the many things that have been removed or cut or are under threat in order to pay the bankers and speculators. One supposes that this new organisation is intended to build on that movement, coordinate it etc. And no doubt put up a slate of candidates at local government and at general elections.

It is Right to Water that has given rise to this idea and no doubt a number who were prominent in it will be likewise in the new organisation.

Right to Water was not a movement, rather a kind of coordinating organisation for national demonstrations, chiefly in Dublin, against the water charges and the expected privatisation of water. In that work it has been highly successful.

The demonstrations built on the actions and mobilisation of hundreds of community groups across the country, protesting locally, encouraging people not to register or pay the charges, blocking Sierra and others from installing water meters and so on.

Many people will think that building Right to Change is the logical next move and will be enthused by it. And why not? Sure wouldn’t it be great to have a large number of TDs standing up to the System, denouncing its plans and their actions? The kind of thing done today by a few Independent TDs and others representing parties with small representation in the Dáil. Well, it would be useful but would it really make a difference?

Recently a Dáil committee set up to review the water charges and so on published its recommendations. Only 13 of the committee’s 20 members agreed with all of the recommendations but all of the recommendations stand nevertheless. Of course some of the objectors were right-wingers but many were of the Left – the System will always have a majority in the sub-systems it sets up. And if a time should come when it cannot achieve that …. well, that’s when you’ll hear the tanks clanking down the street.

Ok, granted perhaps, but it can’t hurt, can it? To have more Left TDs harassing the Government? No, of course not. Not unless we expect too much of this new organisation. Not unless we come to depend on it. And scale down our own independent activities. Hand over power to them.

That wouldn’t happen, would it? Unfortunately it has been a historical trend for popular movements to do exactly that. And social democracy always betrays the mass upon which it has erected itself. The Liberals in the further past and our ‘own’ Fianna Fáil in more recent history often promised the workers many things to win their votes. And even helped the workers push some things through from time to time. But they never promised to abolish the System, never promised socialism.

Social democracy does promise to deliver a fair and just society. It is a promise that it has been making for well over a century but on which it never delivers. It’s not just about jobbery and corruption, of which there is plenty in the corridors of power and to which many social democrats gravitate; it’s more that the Councillors and TDs elected never had any intention of abolishing the System. And in fact, will come out to defend the System whenever it is in danger. When it comes down to it, the System is THEIR system.

From time to time one hears social democrats bewailing “the unacceptable face of capitalism”, as though there exists an “acceptable” face of that system. They may talk at times about the “evils” of capitalism but will bear in mind the “good things” of capitalism too, the benefits they draw or hope to draw from the System. So criticism must be “balanced”, one mustn’t “throw the baby out with bathwater” and so on.

“The law must be obeyed”, they agree, as though “the law” is something divorced from class and politics, some immutable thing that just somehow exists. And yet just about every major social and political advance — including the right to organise a trade union at work, the right to strike and the right to universal suffrage — was won by people breaking “the law”. “The law” and its enforcers are part of the System.

If (heaven forbid) the action of the System’s police should be criticised, then we will hear phrases like “the police have a hard job to do”, the action of the ‘bad’ police is “bringing the force into disrepute”, “there are a few bad apples”, “better training is needed”, a “change in management is necessary”, etc etc. Anything but admit that the police force in a capitalist country exists in order to serve that System.

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY BETRAYS

At the beginning of May 1926, with a coal miners’ strike as a catalyst, Britain was heading towards a real possibility of revolution. The social democratic Trades Union Congress called a General Strike. In many areas of the country and in cities, no transport moved unless it had authorisation from the local Trades Council (a committee of local trade union representatives) or it had armed police and soldier escort. In less than two weeks, the TUC, at the behest of the British Labour Party, called off the strike, leaving the miners to fight on alone to their defeat in less than eight months. “By the end of November, most miners were back at work. However, many remained unemployed for many years. Those still employed were forced to accept longer hours, lower wages and district wage agreements” (Wikipedia).

Banner of a Labour Party branch of Crewe (West England) with a Marxist revolutionary slogan at a General Strike rally. Yet the leadership of the Labour Party convinced the TUC to call off the General Strike. (Image source: Internet)

There had been more workers coming out at that time but also some of the union leaders were beginning to crack, as the struggle was shaping up to be a real showdown between the System and the workers. The TUC didn’t even set up a system to guarantee no retaliations by bosses against activist workers in non-mining unions and many lost their jobs.

The Chilean Salvador Allende is often seen as a hero, a radical social democrat who stood up against internal military fascism and external CIA-led destabilisation. Workers and peasants and some sections of the middle class got Allende elected President in 1970 but right wingers and officers in the military, working with the CIA, were conspiring against him. Everybody knew this and sections of the workers asked for Allende to arm them against the coup they knew was coming. Allende tried instead to compromise and find senior officers he could work with to use against the plotters. When the military carried out the coup, there was some armed resistance but most workers were unarmed. The coup left “3,000 dead or missing, tortured ten thousands of prisoners and drove an estimated 200,000 Chileans into exile” (Wikipedia). In addition, the children of many murdered left-wingers and union activists were given to childless right-wingers and military and police couples to raise as their own.

Social democracy always betrays or ends up hung by its own illusions. Unfortunately the workers end up hanging with it also.

Moments of terror during the 1973 military coup in Chile — some of those pictured may well have been tortured and/ or murdered soon afterwards. (Image source: Internet)

In 2010, in response to Government budget cuts of between 5% and 10% on public servants, along with a levy on pensions, along with a breakdown in the “partnership” system of business and state employers negotiating with trade unions, the social-democratic Irish Trades Union Congress called a major demonstration in Dublin.  Perhaps 70,000 marched down O’Connell Street and the ITUC was threatening a general strike.  Despite escalating strike action in a number of sectors and the growing unpopularity of the Government, the ITUC abandoned the idea of a strike and instead went in to do a deal with the Government, in which they actually agreed to pay cuts and the pension levy, in exchange for some guarantees around public sector jobs. The social democratic trade union leaders didn’t have the stomach (or backbone) to take on the Government, to test the level of support for resistance.

Section of the ICTU protest march in November 2010 — the ICTU threatened a General Strike within days but instead crawled into Croke Park Agreement.
(Image source: Internet)

Why all this talk about social democracy? Well, because Right to Water is essentially a social democratic alliance. It contains Sinn Féin, the biggest minority party in the Dáil, with 23 elected representatives, third in number of TDs. Right to Water is also supported by Unite, “Britain’s biggest union with 1.42 million members across every type of workplace” according to their website it is pretty big in Ireland too, which is a “region” for the union, with 100,000 members across the land. These are forces that, while opposing the water charge, did not support civil disobedience on water meter installation nor refusing to pay the charge (although a number of their members fought along with the rest). Refusing to register and pay were the most effective ways of resisting the water charges and it is the high level of civil disobedience behind the giant demonstrations that has made the ruling class think again and promoted divisions between FG and Labour on the one hand and Fianna Fáil on the other.

But these elements did not support that policy. They want to be not only law-abiding but be seen to be law-abiding. Seen by who? Well, by the ruling class of course. SF in particular is champing at the bit to get into a coalition government but needs to show the ruling class that it is a safe pair of hands, i.e that the System will remain intact if managed by them. As indeed they have done in joint managing the regime in the Six Counties.

Of course there are many occasions when social democrats and revolutionaries can cooperate – but never by ceding leadership to the social democrats nor by depending on them, always instead by relying on their own forces and striving to educate the masses that the system cannot be reformed but needs to be overthrown …. and that the ordinary people are perfectly capable of achieving that.

AN ON-LINE MASS LEFT-WING NEWSPAPER

What about the left-wing newspaper though? Now that might be something, true enough. A source of rebuttal to the lies we are constantly getting from the media and a source of information and news which media censorship ensures most of us don’t get to read, see or hear.

If it seeks to be a truly mass paper it will need to cover not only foreign and domestic news but also sport, with sections on history, culture, nature, gardening ….. Rudolfo Walsh, who founded and with others ran the important ANCLA news agency during the dictatorship and the earlier extremely popular CGTA weekly in Argentina, until he was assassinated by the police, has been credited with two important sources of the weekly’s success: his informants within the police and army and an excellent horse racing tipster!

Rudolfo Walsh, Argentinian writer and journalist of Irish descent, his image superimposed on another of the military dictatorship that murdered him.
(Image source: Internet)

It is a big undertaking and a very interesting one.

But will the new paper practice censorship? Will it confine its discourse to the social democratic or instead allow revolutionary voices in it? Will it allow criticism of trade union leaderships, including Unite’s? Will it cover the repression of Republicans on both sides of the Border but particularly in the Six Counties? One would certainly hope so. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and of the newspaper, in the reading.

UNITY – IS IT A GOOD THING?

Diarmuid Breatnach

One often hears it said that we need more unity, that “unity is strength” and on the other side the despairing wail (and sometimes facile sneer) that “the Left (or Republicans) are too disunited to do anything”. But rarely does one see the question analysed. Unity with whom? On what basis? For how long? Can unity actually contribute to weakness instead of strength?

I have five siblings and at times we quarreled among ourselves, especially the older ones. I remember my mother telling me about a father (or it might have been a mother), who asked his five sons (who presumably also quarreled) to bring him ten sticks as long as their hands and as thick as their thumbs. Of they went, probably quarreling about where would be the best place to get them, who should be in charge, what kind of wood etc……. But eventually, they arrived and produced the ten sticks.

The father handed one stick to each son and then asked them to snap it in two. Puzzled, each one tried and, of course, succeeded easily. Then the father picked up the remaining five sticks and tied them together in a bundle. He handed the bundle over to his youngest son and asked him to snap the bundle in two. The youngest son tried until sweat broke out on his brow but was unable to break them.

Hand the bundle over to your brother,” said the father, indicating the next youngest of the brothers. The son shamefacedly handed over the bundle. But he cheered up when he saw that brother couldn’t break it either. And so it went, the bundle passing up the line until it came to the eldest and though he sweated and strained, he also failed.

Do you see,” asked the father, “how easy it was to break any one of you on your own? And how impossible when you were all together?”

My mother had adapted an old European story attributed to a Greek slave called Aesop in the 4th or 5th century BCE but we didn’t know that then. As we grew older the story seemed to reflect a truism, one that had been incorporated into movements of resistance including defensive ones such as trade unions.1

The bundle of sticks motif on advertisement by union banner artists, with the motto "Unity Is Strength" (Source: Internet)

The bundle of sticks motif on advertisement by union banner artists, with the motto “Unity Is Strength” (Source: Internet)

But of course, we also saw movements and organisations grow and split. I witnessed a lot of such activity (and participated in some of it) while working in London and some of my siblings passed through Sinn Féin, Official Sinn Féin and the IRSP and another passed through Sinn Féin and Provisional Sinn Féin (as did my father before he left that and joined Republican Sinn Féin).

And always the wailing cry all around – if only we were all united! Unity is, apparently, an unproblematic necessity.  The call for unity seems so intuitive, so basic that one rarely gets to hear any of the harmful effects of unity. But is that because there are no harmful effects? On the contrary!

IRELAND AND CHINA

The nationalist Irish Volunteers organisation was formed in 1913, ostensibly in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers the previous year with a declared aim of preventing Home Rule (a kind of national autonomy similar to that of the Dominion territories then) which had been promised to the nationalists (broadly-speaking, the vast majority of the Irish population). The Irish Republican Brotherhood, the moving force behind the foundation of the Irish Volunteers, had plans to use it in insurrection against Britain.

The nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party, the preferred conservative, constitutionalist and even pro-Empire party of the Catholic Irish bourgeoisie, at first ignored the movement. But when it grew to 100,000 members amid enormous enthusiasm, the IPP became worried it might oppose them politically and John Redmond, the party leader, demanded an additional 25 places for nominees of theirs on the Volunteers’ 25-member executive, even though it already contained some supporters of theirs. The IRB, who despised Redmond as a collaborator with British rule, held a meeting among themselves and agreed to vote against accepting that pressure. Most of them did vote against but some changed their mind and, along with some non-IRB nationalists on the executive voted in favour, so that the Redmonites were admitted on to the organisation’s controlling body.

At that time, the IPP was the largest Irish nationalist party and no other party came even close in winning the votes of Catholic men eligible to vote. It is easy to see what the majority on the executive must’ve thought when they voted to accept them: “We’ll be stronger after this, more united; the Catholic Church and the Catholic media will be friendly towards us and encourage even more recruitment. Britain will have to give us Home Rule and we can have an argument later about what kind of politics we want for Ireland when we have our own Dáil” (Parliament). On the other hand, they might have thought that unity with Redmond and his IPP would be far better than being opposed by them.

IRB men Thomas Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada and others were furious – they foresaw a time in the future when Redmond and his IPP would use their positions, along with allies they had made on the Executive, to try to sabotage the project of Irish independence, upon which the IRB had set its mind and heart. Such an event came to pass after the outbreak of the First World War when John Redmond made his speech on 20th September 1914, on the occasion of reviewing a Volunteer troop at Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow, encouraging the Volunteers to enlist in the British Army.

That call, and the resistance to it from within the movement and its executive body, led to a split which reduced the Irish Volunteers from the 170,000 membership which it had reached to a force of 12,300, the majority siding with Redmond and many going on to the war slaughter on the Continent.

The IRB continued to organise in secret among the remaining Volunteers but a number of the Volunteers’ founding executive had always been non-IRB, such as Eoin Mac Neill and The O’Rahilly, and that continued to be the case. When they learned at the last moment that the IRB nucleus planned to proceed with an uprising on Easter Sunday 1916 and calling out the Volunteers to join, Eoin Mac Neill and The O’Rahilly2 did everything they could to halt it. They succeeded only in sabotaging it sufficiently that only about on third of the Volunteers mobilised, and they mostly in Dublin, on Easter Monday instead.

The above lines in these examples are not typed to suggest that thousands of Irish would not have gone to join the British Army in 1914 or even that the whole of the Irish Volunteers would have taken part in the Rising were it not for a) Redmond’s split and b) the cancellation by Mac Neill. I reproduce them only to show that unity can have harmful effects too.

After the 1916 Rising, the survivors of Cumann na mBan, Irish Volunteers, Fianna Éireann and some from the Irish Citizen Army reformed their military organisation which in time came to be called the Irish Republican Army and fought the War of Independence from 1919-1921 against the British. The IRA and the party that had grown around them, Sinn Féin, was also a coalition of people of different ideologies and, when the British offered a partial compromise of a partitioned Dominion status “independence”, the movement split again, out of which emerged the State and its vicious Civil War, with the execution of 83 Republicans by the new State and 124 known unofficial murders carried out by its security forces.

L-R: Chiang Kai Shek, Mao Zedong, photographed in 1945 during short-lived repetition of Chinese Nationalist-Communist alliance against Japanese invasion (photo: Jack Wilkes, Internet)

L-R: Chiang Kai Shek, Mao Zedong, photographed in 1945 during short-lived repetition of Chinese Nationalist-Communist alliance against Japanese invasion (photo: Jack Wilkes, Internet)

Let us go a bit further in geography though not so far in time to the unity between the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai Check, a national bourgeois party, against feudal warlords and the plunder of their country by foreign imperialists. The First United Front, also known as the KMT–CPC Alliance, was formed in 1923. Together, they formed the National Revolutionary Army and set out in 1926 on the Northern Expedition. The alliance fell apart due to factors and incidents we need not go into but the result was an anti-communist purge of Communists and the Shanghai massacre of 1927, in which between 300 and 400 were purged and 5,000 communist and trade union militants disappeared. It took the Communist Party two decades to recover their strength and begin to build their influence.

Again, recounting this history is not necessarily in order to prove that the Communists were wrong in their attempt at unity but merely to show the disastrous effect of the way in which events turned out for them and how vulnerable they were because of that unity at that time.  In the 1940s, on the other hand, another unity worked out better for the Communist-led patriotic forces, though Chiang Kai Shek had to be forced into that alliance.

THE PEOPLE, UNITED, CAN NEVER BE …”

In Chile in the early 1970s, a left-wing democratic anti-imperialist movement grew. It had many different components: nationalistic and/ or social democratic petit-bourgeoisie; revolutionary communists; revolutionary socialists of other types; masses of supporters of unclear ideology but focused on social justice and opportunity to make more of their lives and the lives of their children. Its party was the Popular Unity party and the leader of this coalition was Salvador Allende, essentially a social-democrat, who was elected President.

The United States ruling class, the major imperialist power in the area, not only seriously disliked many of the policies of the new Chilean regime but also feared that the ideas might catch on in other parts of the world or, even worse, that people outside Chile in Latin America would gain hope and confidence from what was going on in Chile and attempt the same in their own countries. The problem was that the Chilean people had voted by majority for the Allende option. Well, not so much of a problem for the USA – they had disposed of democratically-elected governments in the under-developed world before. Obviously a coup was what was needed – and the CIA began to work for one.

The CIA or even 50 CIAs cannot overthrow a government – to do so they need an army of some sort. It might be by US military invasion, as they did in Nicaragua in 1912, Haiti in 1915, or Dominican Republic in 1916. Or it might be that of a neighbouring region, as they did by supporting and instigating the invasion of Guatemala from Honduras in 1954 or of Iran by Iraq in 1980. The Iraq-Iran war lasted eight years but the Iranian government did not fall and Iraq was defeated. Or it might be a “rebel” army, such as the infamous Bay of Pigs US-funded invasion of Cuba in 1961 or the Contras, funded and trained by the USA, against the Sandinista Nicaraguan Government from 1979 to the early 1990s. Or it might be the army of the very State they want to subvert — and so it was in Chile in 1973.

Now, how was it that Allende didn’t see that coming? Was he stupid? Far from it – Allende knew the history of the USA in Latin America and he knew that the commanders of Chile’s Army, Navy, Air Force and Police, and most if not all of the higher ranks of the three services too, were right-wing in ideology, some downright fascist in outlook.

Allende’s options were to try and deal with the senior military ranks and hope they would remain loyal, or to dismiss them and appoint others more trustworthy, from lower ranks. But dismissing them might precipitate the very thing he was trying to avoid – a right-wing military coup. However, that threat could be met by arming the workers.

On the other hand, arming the workers might provoke the military and police.

Both options were risky. To a revolutionary, I would think, relying on the loyalty of the military was the riskiest while the second, much less so. But Allende was a social-democrat, not a revolutionary. He chose to hope that the military would not revolt and when the coup came, it was not just he who paid with his life but thousands of his followers and others on the Left. They didn’t have enough arms with which to resist for long and arrest, torture and death awaited them. The toll of the coup was over 3,000 dead or missing, thousands of prisoners tortured, and 200,000 Chileans forced into exile.

Poster bearing the alternative slogan, sourced on Internet. It was produced by the Ad Hoc Committee to Establish Solidarity With Resistance in Chile, on the occasion of the Speaking and Fund Raising Tour Across Canada by a Representative of the People's Front of Chile.

Poster bearing the alternative slogan, sourced on Internet.
It was produced by the Ad Hoc Committee to Establish Solidarity With Resistance in Chile, on the occasion of the Speaking and Fund Raising Tour Across Canada by a Representative of the People’s Front of Chile.

Before the coup, a slogan that had become popular in Allende’s Chile declared: “El pueblo, unido, jamás sera vencido”. It has been changed by socialists abroad to “The workers, united, will never be defeated”, as though saying “workers” instead of “people” made the slogan more revolutionary. But a large swathe of the people in Chile were united, and even more united were the workers — they had marched and voted for the Allende regime and were eagerly awaiting the benefits of a different regime. And still they were defeated – by a much smaller but much better armed and much more ruthless enemy.

A different slogan came into being after the coup (and perhaps it had been around earlier too but got drowned out by the other): “El pueblo, armado, jamás sera aplastado” (the armed people will never be crushed). People may argue that is simplistic and they may be right – but it contains a lot more truth and sophistication than the slogan it replaced.

IRELAND TODAY

We are constantly being urged today in Ireland towards “unity of the Left” and “unity of Irish Republicans” and, before we nod our heads in reflex action and shake them in despair, it would be worthwhile to look at this proposition a little more closely.

Firstly, what is the unity for? As a minimum it can only be, if we are to consider it a serious proposition, to strengthen our resistance and to defeat austerity measures and state repression.

Then, who are we to unite with? “The Left” means different things to different people and that too needs some exploring. For example, is the Labour Party to be included? Some would say “yes”, including many trade union leaders and activists.

Yet the Labour Party is part of a Government that is heaping austerity upon working people and of a State that is using its police, courts and jails to repress resistance. How can we unite with that? And if the Party is not the same as its members in the Government, why doesn’t the Party denounce and disown those Ministers? No, this cannot be – we cannot have unity with those who work with our enemies.

Others would include Sinn Féin in the list of groups with which we should join for “unity of the Left”. But in what way can Sinn Féin be seriously considered to be part of the Left? In the Six Counties, it is part of a Government of a colonial state and has imposed austerity on the working people there. It has also colluded in State repression of Republicans. SF is mounting no serious opposition to any austerity measure either side of the Border although it often makes the appropriate noises. It does not support the necessary and appropriate action of civil disobedience, never mind organise it. Its mantra is “Vote for us and we’ll see everything is made ok”. That is not a suitable partner in any “unity of the Left”.

Excluding Sinn Féin and the Labour Party removes the largest party and the most TDs from the proposed “united Left” and that is one reason some do not wish to exclude them. However it would be dangerously stupid to try to build unity with these and, even if temporarily successful in some imagined scenario of the future, both elements would desert and even betray us at a crucial moment when we would be preparing a campaign of serious disobedience, to say nothing of revolution.

PRINCIPLES AND TACTICS OF UNITY

Who does that leave? Well, tiny parties and even smaller groups of independent TDs and local authority Councillors, a wide variety of independent activists and a number of campaigns of varying size. Well, better small than rotten at the core, right? And there are millions of others out there yet for us to draw support from in future!

But having unity across that broad mass of individuals and organisations? How? Shall we draw up a constitution and get everyone to agree? They never will and we’ll waste valuable time on the project. Is it all hopeless then?

Not at all. What we need is agreement upon a few fundamentals – the bare necessities, as in Terry Gilkison’s song in the 1967 Disney film “Jungle Book”. Let’s imagine we have come together to discuss cultivating a field. We dropped the Labour Party from our work force because they had been sowing fields with weedkiller. We dropped Sinn Féin because they had sowed a part of the field with weedkiller and were arguing that we didn’t need to clear stones and weeds or dig in the rest of it.

That’s not to say that we won’t have any problems with any of those left but let’s see, eh?

So all the remainder agree that the field needs cultivating, that stones and weeds need removing and digging needs doing. There might be some who don’t (or won’t) agree on what crops to sow and when but at the moment we have the maximum unity, admittedly on paper, for the minimum tasks required.

It might be that on the first day some turn up at the appointed time, 8am and others straggle in at 9, 10, 11 …. OK, it’s early days yet. But those who didn’t turn up at all? They are on notice of dismissal. That is fair – we all agreed that this work needed doing and they are not contributing to it at all.

Now, it turns out that some got tired or bored at noon and left the job, while others worked on to 8pm. Some of those who worked until later are those who turned up later so, although not in the way we expected and agreed, they have put in their hours (and twice that of some who turned up at 8am and were gone by noon). We don’t expect people to work 12 hour shifts every day but we will set a minimum – a realistic one according to our numbers and our people.

Probably, when we started we set up a committee to administer and organise the work – organise tools, meals, accommodation, allocate work to different areas, organise delivery of fertilizer …. And later, decisions will need to be made about what seeds to sow and seasonal work priorities but we can make those at a democratic assembly. And assemblies can elect the members of the administration too – but as individuals, not as the slates of parties or coalitions.

As the year progresses, more will join the work and some will leave or be expelled – but the decision will be made on the basis of the minimum necessary work for the minimum task. If the project succeeds or is seen to be doing well, others will become interested and some of those will join. And they will see who works well and who does not, whom they feel they can trust and who not. And they will also learn to organise, propose solutions or questions, join in collective decision-making.

We may lose the small political parties along the way and some will wail at the loss. But what we have noticed about the parties up to now is that on the whole they put the Party first and the struggle (which also means the people) second. Of course not all ego-trippers, glory-hunters, niche-seekers and petty dictators are in political parties and we’ll have to deal with those individuals too, and their cliques. And not everyone in a party is a party hack. But the work decides (or it doesn’t and we learn from our mistakes) and the decisions are democratic, by popular vote of people involved in the work.

When the work required for the day or week is done or in quiet seasons we should run courses on agriculture. There will be different schools of agricultural thought – OK, fine, let each set up a school, or run workshops, print manuals, newsletters, run FB pages, etc, etc.

It seems to me that is a practical unity, one that can work. We can and I think need to tolerate differences of opinion. But anyone found spreading weedkiller on crop-ground – well, that needs dealing with very firmly. And those who don’t want to dig, remove stones, pull weeds? Their choice — but they won’t be in our workforce or eat from our field.

So, the principles developed in the example were:

  • The maximum unity on the minimum task

  • Unity in practice more than in words

  • Equal rights for all who contribute (and no special rights for anyone)

  • Freedom of speech and press (subject to the basic safeguards) for all who contribute

  • Open to all who join on the same basis

It seems to me that kind of unity will indeed be strength. Unity on other bases? Disaster, early or late.

FOOTNOTES

1In doing a snap piece of research for this article I note that the Nottinghamshire Miners’ Association had the fable represented on their banner – ironically or perhaps of necessity, considering the fractured history of the miners in that area. It was also on a Durham trade union banner, according to Wikipedia.

2The O’Rahilly, seeing the Rising going ahead despite his efforts, joined it and presented his car for use in a barricade. On the Friday of Easter Week, he was mortally wounded leading a charge against rifles and a machine-gun behind a British Army barricade at the Parnell Street end of Moore Street. He died in a nearby laneway which now bears the name O’Rahilly Parade and where there is a monument to him, including a copy of the words in his own script of his farewell letter to his wife.

SHUT UP AND DON’T QUESTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

You will not question the Leadership of the Organisation. That is disrespectful. Besides, they know better than you. They are more intelligent and/ or better educated or have been at it longer than you.

 

The Leadership are incorruptible and have suffered much along the way. That makes it disloyal to question them.

You don’t want to be disrespectful and disloyal, do you?

Let the Leadership do the thinking. Is that not easier?

You must not listen to those who challenge or criticise the Leadership. Those people are disloyal and disrespectful. Besides, some of the things they point out will make you uncomfortable. Put your trust and faith in the Leadership and be comfortable and at ease.

Those who challenge the Leadership are troublemakers. They seek to upset things. It is right that they be expelled and then things will return to the state with which we can be comfortable. If remaining inside the Organisation, they will create disorder. If they are outside the Organisation, their words should not be reported or their criticism printed. Their activities should not be publicised.

You know and your comrades know that you are not a troublemaker, or disrespectful or disloyal. But if you associate with those critics, the ones from outside or that left or were expelled, people will begin to suspect that you too are like them. You want the Leadership and comrades to trust you, to be at ease with you, don’t you? Best ignore the critics, not have anything to do with them.

Besides, what can they possibly have to offer, outside the Organisation?

Solidarity against the attacks of the enemy is a good thing, but not with the critics. They have forfeited any right to solidarity when they broke from or criticised the Leadership and the Organisation. They have brought all this down upon themselves.

Concentrate upon the path pointed out by the Leadership. Concentrate upon the tasks of the moment. All will be well. You are in good hands. The Organisation is in good hands. Everything is fine.

COLOURS OF STRUGGLE

Diarmuid Breatnach

Information picket (with table across the road) organized by Anti-Internment Group of Ireland in September 2014 at Thomas St./ Meath St. junction, Dublin. They returned there in December and in January supported a picket in Cork, handing out leaflets on the Craigavon Two injustice.

Information picket (with table across the road) organized by Anti-Internment Group of Ireland in September 2014 at Thomas St./ Meath St. junction, Dublin.

MEP maybe Kobane Rally London

Palestinian and Kurdish flags at a Kobane solidarity rally in Trafalgar Square, London in 2014. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flag of the ICA, flown over Murphy's Imperial Hotel in 1916

The flag of the ICA, flown over Murphy’s Imperial Hotel in 1916

 

 

 

 

I’m no shade of green,

though neath such flags I’ve oft times been,

and ‘neath the Plough in Gold on Green,

and some years back

Also the black,

aye and the red-and-black;

or Palestinian red and black and white and green,

c-n-mb-irish-republic-tricolour-flags-crowd-gpo-copy

Cumann na mBan, “Irish Republic” and Tricolour flags displayed at Dublin’s GPO by Moore Street campaign supporters. (Phoro: D. Breatnach?)

Or the Basque crosses white and green upon red …..

In solidarity I have flown all those flags I’ve said

But when all’s said and done —

though hard to choose just one —

from my heart and from my head:

I choose the workers’ Red.

Sept 2016

 

A number of the Basque flag, the Ikurrina, flying in Dublin during a solidarity protest. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

A number of the Basque flag, the Ikurrina, flying in Dublin during a solidarity protest. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

Anarcho-Sindicalist and Anarchist black flags (Photo source: Internet)

Anarcho-Sindicalist and Anarchist black flags
(Photo source: Internet)

bagladeshi-women-men-red-flags-mayday

Bangladeshis on Mayday demonstration. (Photo source: Internet)

WORKING CLASS HERO IS COMMEMORATED IN THE EAST WALL AREA WHERE HE LIVED

Diarmuid Breatnach

On Sunday 8th May a working-class hero was commemorated in the East Wall area in which he lived. Walter Carpenter was a native of Kent, in SE England and came to Ireland to help found the Socialist Party of Ireland 1 with James Connolly in 1909 in Dublin. Among other activities a campaigner around housing issues for the Dublin working class, he reared his sons in socialist belief so that it was no surprise that both Wally (Walter jnr) and Peter joined the Irish Citizen Army and fought in the 1916 Rising. As a result of the repression of the Rising, one son ended up in Frongoch concentration camp in Wales, while the other was in hiding. Later, both brothers also fought against the Free State in the Irish Civil War; Wally was interned and went on hunger strike.

Lining Up Outside SOCC

Assembling to march outside the Sean O’Casey Community Centre

Jailed for opposing British Royal visit to Dublin

Rising to be Secretary of the Dublin Branch of the SPI in 1911, Walter Carpenter was jailed for a month for the production while speaking on a public platform of Connolly’s leaflet attacking the Royal visit that same year. Soon afterwards he was an organiser for the newly-formed Irish & Transport Workers’ Union. During the Lockout, he was sent by Connolly to Britain to rally the support of trade unionists for the struggle of the Dublin workers and was apparently an effective speaker there. That same year Walter Carpenter was elected General Secretary of the Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ trade union, generally known as “the Jewish Union” due to the preponderance of its members being from that background.

Two sections march

United in purpose but fragmented in marching

Walter also became active in municipal politics, striving to make Dublin City Council meet its housing regulation responsibilities in the terrible housing conditions of the city of that time. There were many other sides to this campaigner too, which a read of Ellen Galvin’s pamphlet will reveal.

The East Wall History Group had earlier had a plaque erected on the wall of the house where he had lived, No.8 Caledon Road and organised an event around its unveiling on Sunday. The event began with a gathering at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre in East Wall, where an introduction to the event and to Walter Carpenter’s importance in the revolutionary and radical social history of Ireland was given by Joe Mooney, one of the organisers of the event. As well as local historians, socialists and Republicans, the event was attended by his surviving grandson, great-grandchildren and partners and their children. Also present was Ellen Galvin, who wrote a booklet on his life which was launched after the unveiling, back in the Sean O’Casey Centre.

Joe Mooney with a few preliminary words about Walter Carpenter and the history of the area

Joe Mooney with a few preliminary words about Walter Carpenter and the history of the area

Misfortune struck the event before it had even begun, with the news that Christy O’Brien, the piper who was to lead a march to the unveiling, had his pipes stolen from his car that very morning. Christy gives his service as a piper to many commemorative events, funerals etc. and, with the announcement of the misfortune, Joe Mooney also called for the spreading of the news in order to aid the recovery of the instrument. A set of bagpipes will cost thousands to buy or have made but it would be a rare musician or pawnshop that would negotiate for a stolen set (one which furthermore might be recognised at a musical event in the future).
(see also https://www.facebook.com/eastwallhistory/photos/a.593335330735681.1073741828.580261572043057/1042532349149308/?type=3&theater)

March to plaque past previous addresses of Irish resistance fighters

The march set off from the Sean O’Casey Centre without the piper, led by supporters carrying the banner of the East Wall History Group, a Tricolour and a Starry Plough (original green and gold version). Walking alongside were two Gárdaí and one wit commented that not only were descendants of the Irish Citizen Army present but also of the Dublin Metropolitan Police! 2

Caitríona Ní Casaidthe presiding over the plaque unveiling

Caitríona Ní Casaidthe presiding over the plaque unveiling

Deputy Dublin Mayor Cieran Perry in the march -- he also spoke at the unveiling.

Deputy Dublin Mayor Cieran Perry in the march — he also spoke at the unveiling.

Joe Mooney had told the crowd before the march began that they would pass a number of locations where fighters for Irish and working-class freedom had lived. These were: St Marys Road, Tim O’Neill at No.8 and father and daughter Patrick Kavanagh and May Kavanagh at No.24. Christy Byrne lived at No.45 and his brother Joseph Byrne was from Boland’s Cottages off Church Road, where also Christopher Carberry lived on Myrtle Terrace on Church Rd. All these were Irish Volunteers, while May was in Cumann na mBan. In Northcourt Avenue (now demolished, roughly where the Catholic Church stands), Patrick & William Chaney were in the Irish Citizen Army and in Hawthorn Terrace lived James Fox (Irish Volunteer) and Willie Halpin (ICA).

Joe added that at the junction of St. Mary’s Road and Church Street, the local Irish Volunteers had mustered to participate in the Rising, 100 years ago and also reminded the gathering that that very day, the 8th of May, was the centenary of the executions by British firing squad of Michael Mallin of the Irish Citizen Army and of Irish Volunteers Eamonn Ceannt, Sean Heuston and Con Colbert.

Eamon Carpenter, 94, grandson of Walter Carpenter (Photo D.Breatnach)

Eamon Carpenter, 94, grandson of Walter Carpenter (Photo D.Breatnach)

Upon reaching No. 8 Caledon Road, the former home of Walter Carpenter, Caitríona Ní Chasaide of the East Wall History Group introduced Eamon Carpenter, 94 years of age and a grandson of Walter Carpenter, who addressed the crowd in thanks and also about the life of his grandfather.

“The struggles of the past are not merely for commemoration”

Next Caitríona introduced the Deputy Mayor of Dublin, Cieran Perry, who pointed out the parallels between the dire housing situation in the early part of the last century, which Walter Carpenter had campaigned against, and the housing crisis in Dublin today. He castigated the officials of Dublin City Council who, despite the votes of elected Left Councillors, refused to use all the land available to them on a number of sites to build social housing and were instead preparing it for private development with a only fraction for social housing. For as little as 5% of the €4 billion of Minister Kelly’s oft-repeated proposed finance for social housing. i.e. €200 million, Dublin City Council could build over 1,300 homes. The struggles of the past are not merely for commemoration, Cieran went on to say, but are for celebration and for continuation, as he concluded to applause.

Caitríona then called on James Carpenter to unveil the plaque, which he did, to loud applause.Walter Carpenter plaque

After relatives and others had taken photos and been photographed in turn by the plaque and/or beside James Carpenter, Joe Mooney called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing The Felons Of Our Land. Joe explained that Walter Carpenter had been fond of singing that son, that in the course of their participation in the struggle he and his son had also been felons, as had Larkin and many others. Joe also informed the gathering that Sean O’Casey related that during his childhood, there had been a tram conductor who had been fond of singing patriotic songs, including the Felons Of Our Land, of which Casey’s mother had disapproved. It had been an revelation for O’Casey that one could be a Protestant and an Irish patriot too.

Diarmuid, dressed in approximation of period clothing, stepped forward and sang the four verses, of which the final lines are:

Diarmuid Breatnach singing "Felons of Our Land" outside former home of Walter Carpenter. (Photo East Wall History Group)

Diarmuid Breatnach singing “Felons of Our Land” outside former home of Walter Carpenter.
(Photo East Wall History Group)

Let cowards sneer and tyrants frown
O! little do we care–
A felon’s cap’s the noblest crown
An Irish head can wear.
And every Gael in Innisfail
(Who scorns the serf’s vile brand)
From Lee to Boyne would gladly join
The felons of our land.

The crowd then marched back to the Sean O’Casey Centre to attend the launch of the booklet on Carpenter’s life.

Launch of book on Walter Carpenter by his granddaughter and grandson of his comrade

On the stage in the Centre’s theatre, were seated the author of the booklet, Ellen Galvin, alongside Michael O’Brien of O’Brien Press.

Ellen Galvin on stage at the Sean O'Casey Community Centre theatre and Michael O'Brien launching the book about Walter Carpenter. (Photo D.Breatnach)

Ellen Galvin on stage at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre theatre and Michael O’Brien launching the book about Walter Carpenter. (Photo D.Breatnach)

Michael O’Brien, addressing the audience, said he had wondered what qualification he might have to launch the book but on investigation discovered that he had not a few connections. His own grandfather, who was Jewish, had been a founder member of the Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ Union, of which Carpenter had been the General Secretary until his retirement and so they must have known one another at least fairly well.

Also, Bill O’Brien’s father, Thomas, had been a communist and was active with Walter Carpenter in the Republican Congress in the 1930s. Walter Carpenter and Thomas O’Brien had both also been active in the Bacon Shops’ Strike of the early 1930s. Thomas O’Brien had been jailed during that strike along with Jack Nalty and Dinny Coady, both of whom had East Wall connections; subsequently Thomas went to fight Franco and fascism in Spain, where Nalty and Coady were both killed.

Joe Mooney called on Tommy Seery to sing The Bold Labour Men, a song about the 1913 Lockout written by a local man, which he did to strong applause. (Tommy is a member of the East Wall PEG Drama and Variety Group, in which he acts and also often sings – a recent performance, from which Tommy was unfortunately absent due to illness, may be seen here https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/from-lockout-to-revolution-performance-of-east-wall-peg-drama-variety-group/).

Tommy Seery singing "The Bold Labour Men" about the 1913 Lockout (Photo D.Breatnach)

Tommy Seery singing “The Bold Labour Men” about the 1913 Lockout (Photo D.Breatnach)

Ellen Galvin spoke about Walter Carpenter’s life and his dedication to the advance of the working class and the struggle for justice.  Walter had been a supporter of equality for all, including gender, a man who read much and widely, who apparently learned Irish and campaigned for allotments for rent on Council-owned land while it was unused for housing.  He was against the consumption of alcohol but sympathised with people driven to its use by terrible housing conditions.

Joe then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing Be Moderate, written by James Connolly, to illustrate what it was that people like Connolly and those of the Irish Citizen Army fought for and for which some had given their lives. Diarmuid took the stage and explained that the song had been published in New York in 1910, the same year that he had returned to Ireland from the USA. There had been no indication of an air to accompany the lyrics, as a result of which it has been sung to a number of airs. Diarmuid heard it sung in London by an English communist to the air of a Nation Once Again 3 and at least one good thing about this is that it provides a chorus, with which he encouraged the audience to join in. He then sang the song, of which the final lines are:

For workers long, with sighs and tears,
To their oppressors knelt.
But never yet, to aught save fears,
Did heart of tyrant melt.
We need not kneel, our cause is high
Of true hearts 4 there’s no dearth
And our victorious rallying cry
Shall be “We want the Earth!”

Many in the audience joined in on the chorus:
We only want the Earth, 
We only want the Earth,
And our demands most moderate are:
We only want the Earth!

Eamon Carpenter delivered an impromptu tribute to Ellen Galvin, who he told the audience had lost her mother at the age of 13 years of age, from which time she had taken over the mother’s role for her younger siblings, ensuring the were fed, dressed and cared for. This tribute was warmly applauded while Ellen seemed embarrassed but also pleased.

This was another successful commemoration of the revolutionary history and, in particular, of the working class history of their area by the East Wall History Group. It is of great importance that the working class be appraised of their own history as distinct from the dominant historical narratives and that their revolutionary traditions be remembered, not as something dead and in the past but as part of a continuum of struggle for the emancipation of the class.

If there is a weakness in a number of such commemorations it is the lack of participation by local adolescent youth in these events – which may also imply a lack of engagement by this age-group. Nevertheless, should they go searching at some future date for the information and their connection to the history of place and class, they will find a treasure trove waiting for them in the work of this History Group.

Children & Parents left plaque

CONTACTS
The East Wall History Group may be contacted or viewed on FB at https://www.facebook.com/eastwallhistory/?fref=ts

Mother & 2 Daughters

Local Photographer Exhibition SOCC

FOOTNOTES

 There exists today an organisation called the Socialist Party of Ireland (which often organises under the banner of the Anti-Austerity Alliance) but it is not directly descended from the party founded in Ireland in 1909; rather it is closer to being an offshoot of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, with which it has close fraternal relations.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police gained particular notoriety for the violence against organised workers on behalf of Dublin employers, especially during the 1913 Lockout, during which they killed a number of workers with their truncheons. In later years, the force became a Dublin police force under the Free State, which was later subsumed into the Garda Síochána, a fact not generally known.

3  Written by Thomas Davis, first published in The Nation, Dublin, 1844.

4  “of true men there’s no dearth” in the original

FACING THE PAST AND THE FUTURE

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

Many people, Irish, migrant and tourist, are questioning the decision to erect banners on the Bank of Ireland building, former site of the Irish Parliament, displaying the heads of four politicians, three of whom were dead long before 1916.  These were prepared by Dublin City Libraries, a department of Dublin City Council, at the behest of the office of the Taoiseach (the Irish Prime Minister) and as part of the commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

The heads of four prominent Irish people who were against revolution

The heads of four prominent Irish politicians who were against revolution (image from Internet)

The images of Grattan, O’Connell, Parnell & Redmond constitute a coherent collection, deliberately chosen — each represented a parliamentary approach and so are in direct opposition to the revolutionary approach in 1916 of the IRB, the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan and Fianna and, in practice in Dublin, of the Hibernian Rifles.

Furthermore, each of the four politicians in their own time had a revolutionary opposition within the movement — Grattan had the United Irishmen, O’Connell the Young Irelanders, Parnell the Fenians though he flirted pretty heavily with the revolutionaries and vice versa for a while.  And of course Redmond …. had the Irish Citizen Army, the IRB, Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and Fianna!

While some may be puzzled by the choice of images and others annoyed by them, the message of the Taoiseach’s office and of the State is very clear: “Follow the parliamentary path and not the revolutionary one.”  The subsidiary message could have been: “If you are forced into revolution, give over complete power as soon as possible to the capitalist class”. In that case, they could have put the pictures of Collins, Griffiths, Mulcahy and Higgins up, followed perhaps by De Valera’s.

Interestingly, each of those four displayed by Dublin City Council —  except Redmond — used the threat of revolution to try to get what he wanted: Grattan, to get a united Irish bourgeoisie and civil rights for Catholics, in order to win greater autonomy for the Irish capitalists; O’Connell, in order to win greater power for the Irish Catholic capitalist class and greater autonomy from England; Parnell, in order to win tenant rights and win back an Irish parliament.  Instead, Redmond tried to appeal to the colonialists’ gratitude.

Even more interestingly, EACH of the four FAILED SPECTACULARLY.  While this can be said about the 1916 Rising leaders also, the revolutionary struggle initiated by the Rising which began three years later had in another three years won more concessions than had all the many preceding decades of parliamentary effort.

In feeling the need to post their message so crassly and clumsily, the Irish bourgeoisie have revealed also their fear.  They are not ignorant of history and therefore know that commemorations are not only about the past — they very often play a role in shaping the future.  Prior to the 1916 Rising, commemorations of the centenary of the 1798 and 1803 Risings played a part in building a revolutionary patriotic atmosphere and working associations, while O’Donovan Rosa’s funeral procession in Dublin and Pearse’s famous oration at the grave of the Fenian preceded the Easter Rising by less than a year.

As throughout Ireland, all 32 Counties, the Centenary has awakened a feverish interest, the Gombeen State, which since the 1980s has been trying to downplay the whole unfortunate Easter Rising business and now finds itself obliged to somehow manage the centenary commemorations, is deeply troubled that revolutionary patriotism has been awoken too.  That too many people are comparing the various visions of the insurgents of 1916 with the reality which the gombeenmen and compliant politicians delivered us ….. and wondering whether they might not be able to make a similar vision come true, in another bid, 100 years after the previous attempt.

ends

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/dublin-city-council-defends-college-green-1916-banner-1.2571822/

 

 

THERE IS ONE ROAD FOR US AND NO THIRD WAY

Diarmuid Breatnach

As we enter the New Year, be prepared for attempts to engage us with a whipped-up excitement of elections and “new” ways of doing things. A diversion — something like a cross between those periodic shows like the Eurovision Song Context and the Lottery. And like the lottery, there will be a winner but it won’t be us. Whichever party or combination of parties succeeds, it will be the ruling class that wins.  A diversion in the other sense too, in that it seeks to divert us from our path.

There is no third way, there are no alternative routes, short cuts, slip roads. There is the revolutionary road and the other.  The other leads to the continuation of capitalism.  But the other road is often represented as a number of different roads, and the only difference between them is in the degrees of exploitation and repression it will deliver. The non-revolutionary road can  NEVER lead to social justice.

To be sure, there are many slip roads and byways on the non-revolutionary road but none of them lead to revolution; therefore they do not lead to socialism and therefore nor do they lead to overcoming the capitalist attacks on the working people and the continuing penetration of imperialism into our way of governing ourselves and our social provision, into our natural resources and into our labour power.

Every now and again, a “new” road is proposed, in which “new alliances” are sought, projects to “build a broader front” away from “clichés” and “slogans of the past”. And it turns out that there is nothing new in these roads except the words being used and sometimes not even those. There is talk of accumulation or summation of forces, for which some objectives must be dropped, for which descriptions must be toned down, for which slogans that mean many different things to different people have to be adopted. Well, either they are heading (and wanting us to follow) for capitalism or they are heading for socialism – there are no other destinations. And if they are heading for socialism, why do they not say so? Why do they not reveal their full program?

There are those who say we can reach socialism by building this wide movement with deliberately unclear slogans and program, building on the hostility towards the present state of things and the dominant political parties. How can that be, if there are basically only two roads? How can this wide movement of discontent displace the ruling class and their system, if it is not consciously heading up the road of revolution? It seems that at some point the curtain will be whipped aside by the socialists in these wide movements and the masses will be shown the monster of capitalism and will realise it is so horrible that it must be killed. And of course they will do it. How? Ah, that’s a step too far, comrade, stick with us, trust us, we’ll tell you when the moment comes.

One can see the fates of Syriza in government in Greece and of Podemos in opposition in the Spanish state to see the enormous expectations that are raised and then cruelly dashed. We have seen the like before in our history in Ireland and we will see that again. As we go into 2016 we will have such illusions of a possible electoral socialist future dangled before us, though on a smaller scale.

Elect Sinn Féin and we’ll have a really different situation, a real change – or so we are told. Nonsense – a party that has never seriously confronted capitalism, a party in fact whose President says publicly (and without correction by his party) that it does not have a problem with Capitalism. A party tried in government of a kind already, albeit in a colonial statelet, that has demonstrated itself unwilling to make a determined stand for social justice in welfare and education and which has maintained a colonial repressive police force. This is also a party which has openly welcomed leaders of US and British imperialism and signaled its acceptance of the treason of the ANC leadership to the South African masses. In the 26-Counties this party showed its eagerness to impress the ruling class with how “responsible” and “law-abiding” it is, so much so that they are not even willing to endorse the civil disobedience tactics of refusal to register for the Water Charge and refusal to pay the charge.

Perhaps, once in the Dáil they might become a revolutionary socialist party? One can of course hope (or pray) for miracles but one has no right to expect them.

Another illusion being dangled before us is the election of some kind of “Left-wing coalition”, whether it would include SF or not. We have a Dáil of 166 seats so it would be necessary to elect no less than 84 to have an absolute majority – a coalition of 84 independents, TDs from small socialist parties and whoever! And what program will this “Left-wing coalition” have that all 84 can be expected to adhere to? We don’t know and we have no revolutionary mass movement which has put forward the demands to incorporate into such a program. There is no need to even consider what measures the ruling capitalist class would take should there ever be a Dáil majority with a revolutionary program – we are not within an ass’ bray of such a moment.

Yes, I said we have no revolutionary mass movement — but I was not dismissing (nor “dissing”) the movement of resistance. For two years we have had a wide and numerous movement of resistance to the Water Charge or Tax, carrying on from the previous movements against the Household Tax and the Property Charge. With regards to the latter two, the first was successful but the second was successfully bypassed by the State  by changing the law, enabling the State to collect the charge directly from our income. Whether this was illegal or not is beside the point – they did it and anyway, to whom does the law belong if not to them? Certainly not to us!

With regard to the remaining one, the movement of popular resistance to the Water Charge continues, even without much central leadership, without the practical support of the trade union movement. Those absences may have prevented it being completely taken over by opportunists and careerists and state agents but it has also prevented it from waging a campaign of sustained resistance, of presenting an agreed slate of demands of sponsors and of candidates for election, of putting real pressure on the trade union leaderships and of regular mobilisation of numbers to defend resisters being hounded through the courts and threatened with imprisonment. Nevertheless, the resistance continues.

But we should not fool ourselves that the campaign is revolutionary – it does not have as an objective the overthrow of the capitalist system. To be sure, some and even many of its supporters may wish for that – but it is not an objective of the campaign. In fact, even the demand of the abolition of the Water Charge is not a revolutionary demand — that can be achieved without overthrowing the system.

For revolutionaries, reforms and partial gains are not things to be ignored. We take our stand on them with regard to a number of criteria. In the case of the Water Charge, the great thing is that it was and is being resisted by civil disobedience and if this tax should be eventually defeated through this tactic we should celebrate the victory. We should proclaim that resistance does work, that breaking the law of the State is necessary when it impedes our progress. And that the campaign has exposed the role of the State – legislature, police and courts in repression and service of capitalism. But we should be clear with the movement that it is, however great, a temporary victory – the system remains and while that is so we are open to many, many other attacks which we can safely predict will follow.

The victory of the movement of civil resistance can be put to use for revolution – in terms of tactical and strategic lessons learned by individuals, communities and organisations. The pool of revolutionary activists can be enlarged. This can best be done in the context of a revolutionary movement which is not something we have but which it is not beyond our capabilities to build. But it will not be built by elections nor by electoral campaigns.

As the elections approach we will be gabbled at from nearly every quarter: Vote for Us! Vote Against Them! Vote for Me! Then there will be the shrill “You Must Vote!” and “You Have No Right to Criticise If You Don’t Vote!” And even the fewer but also shrill voices that shout “Don’t Vote!” and “You’re Supporting the System If You Vote!” Really, what a lot of nonsense all of that is. The system will neither be changed by us voting in its elections nor will it overthrown by us not voting in them. Nor will voting in them strengthen it significantly, except in the case of a popular boycott which is not even on the political horizon.

There is an Irish Republican tradition of standing in elections and not taking seats in the Dáil and whether one is a genuine revolutionary or Republican (choose whichever label you prefer) is judged by whether one takes that seat or not if elected. This seems to me to be a false test. There have been revolutionaries who took seats in parliaments on the one hand and on the other, reformists within revolutionary and resistance movements who worked away without taking parliamentary seats. While it is true that opportunists and careerists often wish to enter parliaments in order to further their careers and to pay off their senior party supporters, there is no guarantee that not doing so will prevent activists from being corrupted and co-opted. There are so many other rewards the system has to offer – a secure job, seat on a company board, status and recognition, special awards, publication of writings, career advancement, jobs in various institutions and civil service, funding of one’s project as a non-government organisation, paid expenses, paid travel ….. along with safety from the danger of arrest, the dawn raid, the assassin’s bullet, torture, years in prison.

We can of course vote for individuals in order to keep other individuals out or to put someone we like in or to maintain a useful few voices in the Dáil. But let us not fool ourselves that is really making a difference to the system as such. Only revolution can do that. Of course the revolutionary road is not without its switchbacks, potholes and blind turnings. Nevertheless, it is the only viable road and if we are not heading up it then we are not going to bring about any real or lasting change.

Vote or don’t but the crucial thing is to organise resistance, to contribute to it practically and ideologically. And the latter does mean not spreading illusions.

end